Just five? Sometimes it feels like I could write a list a mile long about the ways that IEP meetings could be improved. While I typically write from a positive angle, I think it's worthwhile to step back occasionally and offer constructive criticism about the process before providing suggestions for improvement. If you've been in one or 100 IEP meetings, I'm sure these complaints will resonate with you!
1. Team members approach the meeting through a deficit-based lens. I know what you're thinking: "Well... the whole point of an IEP is to create goals that the student needs to meet. To set a good goal, you have to know and discuss the student's struggles." That's true, but the entire meeting does not need to overshadowed by only the student's needs. In nearly every meeting I attend, the team blows past the Present Levels to get to the goals. And you know what that means? There is no celebration for the skills the student has achieved since the last meeting. In addition, the student's gifts should be acknowledged and leveraged to help the student overcome deficits. A great IEP meeting should be heavily focused on how the team can utilize the student's strengths to help him or her meet the agreed-upon goals.
2. There's a lack of agenda. You know what I see over and over again? Parents and teachers who go into meetings with totally different ideas about the purpose of the meeting and what would make the meeting successful. This is a one-way ticket to misery for everyone involved. It's a good idea to start each meeting with an overview of what is going to be discussed and what needs to happen-- even if it's just an annual IEP review. Some teams like to follow the IEP in order, going section by section, while others want to start with parent concerns which can lead directly into goal setting before you know it's happening. Ask for a true agenda or bring your own (which is what I suggest!), and don't be afraid to direct everyone back to it if you veer off-track.
3. Students aren't invited to their own meetings. Gosh, I could write forever about this and I already have. Feel free to jump on over to this post to read all the good insight about having students join their own meetings starting EARLY.
4. Ideas are prescriptive rather than creative. I hate, hate, hate when school teams present parents with a few options and want them to pick one, or worse, tell them that their student must be placed in X class/group/placement/program of study because that's what they offer. Repeat after me: That's not how it works. That. Is. NOT. How. It. Works. The purpose of an IEP is to create an individualized educational program that is based around what the student needs, NOT based around what the school offers. It's great if what the school offers serves the student! But if it doesn't, it's the responsibility of the school to provide the staff, services, therapies, supports, or accommodations that will. Anything can be on the table if you can demonstrate that the student needs it to be successful in school.
5. Nothing actually ever changes. Have you ever been to an IEP meeting that felt great? That felt like everyone was collaborating, that your concerns were heard and validated, and that you finally had new strategies in place to make things better? There seems to be a disconnect at times about what people offer and what they can follow through with. You can have the best plan in the world...but if it's just a plan without any action it's worthless. Make sure to follow up in writing after an IEP meeting to reiterate your understanding of the changes that will be made. Ask the school team to provide their agreement in writing as well. A great IEP will have designated "check-in" times-- if the IEP says that your student will be evaluated on a goal monthly, ask the school team for their report when the time comes. Accountability is key to making sure changes are made and not just discussed.
So there's the list. What are your biggest concerns and frustrations with the IEP process?
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